Posted by: happyfan08 | January 21, 2010

2009 Awards (9 of 12): Rookie to Watch in 2010

Rookie to Watch in 2010

And the Winner Is:  Good Question!

Every year, picks a rookie in the upcoming class that we think has some promise to be a standout in the coming year.  We try not to pick the obvious choice, but someone who is a little more obscure.  In 2008, the rookie we chose to highlight was MJ Hur.  I wrote the following:

“(S)he still put herself into contention a lot (on the Futures Tour), and that bodes well for her future on the LPGA.  She will still be a very young golfer next year as a rookie, just 19, but if she can figure out how to hold herself together when she gets in contention, she could make a bit of noise in 2009. “

Hur certainly did make some noise, winning at the Safeway Classic and making $445,022 in 2009.  Sometimes I get them right after all!

MJ Hur

But in looking at the rookie class on the LPGA in 2010, I have to admit the pickings are slim.  The best possible rookie would have been Bo Bae Song.  Song won the Mizuno Classic in 2009 to earn membership on tour, but it looks like she turned that down to remain in Japan.  So, with BB not on tour, who is left?

Possibly the strongest Korean golfer coming onto tour next year is Misun Cho.  I could see her doing decently, but in all likelihood she will have a steep learning curve next year.  Il Hee Lee earned membership on the tour at Q-School, but she was only a second or third tier KLPGA player, and those players have not typically done that well when they move onto the LPGA.

So, with no Korean rookies standing out on tour in 2010, I looked to the JLPGA instead, and have chosen as my player to watch Sun Ju Ahn.  One fallout from the Carolyn Bivens years has been a greatly reduced schedule for the LPGA.    This in turn has caused several Korean mainstays of the LPGA tour to seek membership this season on other tours, notably the Japanese LPGA.  Among those who have qualified to play in Japan next year are US Women’s Open champion Inbee Park, tour winners Young Kim and Seon Hwa Lee, and KLPGA star Sun Ju Ahn.  In the case of the LPGA players, it is most likely that they will only play in Japan when the LPGA does not have a competing event, so they may not play enough to be even considered true rookies (or to rank highly in the year end money lists on that tour).  But Sun Ju Ahn will likely concentrate on playing the JLPGA, and she is one of the strongest players from the KLPGA the last few years.  Although she did not amass the same kind of win totals as Hee Kyung Seo or Jiyai Shin, she still was the type of player who contended often.  This year, she led the tour in scoring average much of the season, and was also the longest driver on tour.  Factors like that lead me to believe she will quickly establish herself as one of the premiere players in Japan.

Sun Ju Ahn

Now I’m going to cheat a little…  There are two Korean American players on the Futures Tour who for all intents and purposes can be considered rookies in 2010, even though they both played some events over there in past years.  One of them is Tiffany Joh.  The Korean American was a college standout, winning the US Amateur Pub Links twice (the second time, she beat none other than Jennifer Song, this year’s champ, to do it).  She was not able to qualify for the LPGA in 2010, but she did make it onto the Futures Tour; in fact, she won Q School.  It would surprise me in the extreme if she is not a big factor on that tour in 2010.

The other player of interest is Hannah Yun (not to be confused with sometime LPGA member Hannah Jun).  Yun is interesting because of her youth: as a fifteen year old, she started attending the University of Florida, where she played on their golf team.  She did well, too, earning awards as the team’s Most Valuable Player and a spot on the all-SEC first team.  Despite that, she decided to leave the school at the start of her sophomore year.  Still too young to turn pro, Yun played as an amateur on the Futures Tour in 2008, and would have been 57th on the tour in ranking had her earnings counted.  Yun played on the Futures Tour again in 2009, this time as a pro after she turned 17 in April.  So technically, she is far from a rookie going into the 2010 season, but it would be her first whole season as a pro on that tour.

Best New Young Player

And the Winner Is: No one!

This year, there were several new players who had minor accomplishments on the various tours.  Soo Jin Yang and Shin Ae Ahn, for instance, are two young rookies who played well on the KLPGA.  However, neither of them had a win in 2009 or even came close to playing as well as the Rookies of the Year from the past few seasons (He Yong Choi, Ha Neul Kim and Jiyai Shin).  MJ Hur and Eunjung Yi were relatively obscure before their wins this season on the LPGA, but Hur had done well on the Futures Tour in 2008, and Yi had won the Women’s Amateur Pub Links in 2005.  Perhaps a player to watch was Jung Min Lee, who won the Polo Junior title for Girls in her first appearance at an amateur event in America.  But really, compared to past years, no young player really burst onto the scene in 2009, so for this year I will leave this award unawarded.

Best Teen

And the Winner Is: Jennifer Song

Jennifer Song with her Pub Links Trophy

In 2009, Jennifer Song had one of the greatest amateur seasons of recent years.  The 19 year old Freshman at USC had a fantastic first year in college, where she earned All American First Team status.  Among her impressive accomplishments was finishing second at the NCAA Championship and five other top three finishes.  In June, she made it all the way to the finals at the US Women’s Amateur Pub Links.  Song had previously finished second in this event to Tiffany Joh, but this time she went all the way, trouncing teenage Korean American prodigy Kimberly Kim 7 & 6 in the final.

Later that summer, she was the low amateur at the US Women’s Open, finishing tied for 13th.  But her season entered the stratosphere when she won the US Women’s Amateur in August, beating Jennifer Johnson in 35 holes.  Song became only the second woman in history, after Korean American Pearl Sinn in 1988, to win both the Women’s Amateur and Women’s Pub Links in the same year.  Song was not even alive when Sinn had turned that trick.

Other Nominees:

So Yeon Ryu

So Yeon Ryu

It was a tough choice between Ryu and Song for the best teen, but the historic nature of what Song accomplished in 2009 allowed her to edge out Ryu in the end.  But make no mistake about it, Ryu was incredibly impressive in her own right this year.  She was 18 years old to start the year, coming off a pretty strong KLPGA rookie campaign where she won once and finished second twice while simultaneously attending her final year of high school.  Ryu worked with top Australian coach Ian Triggs in the off season, and impressed him so much he went on record to say he expected her to soon be one of the ten best women’s golfers in the world.  Ryu proved she had that potential when she finished second at the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia in February, beating some top flight talent including Hee Kyung Seo and Jiyai Shin, the top two KLPGA golfers from 2008.

So Yeon Ryu in Australia

When the 2009 KLPGA season started in earnest, it looked like Hee Kyung Seo, the golfer who had won six times in the latter half of the previous year, would be the runaway Player of the Year, especially after she won the year’s first Major, the Korean Women’s Open.  But Ryu really kicked her game into gear with a win at the Doosan Match Play Championship in May.  That win had taken so long to achieve that she was pretty exhausted at the next event, yet still finished third.  After that, she ripped off three more straight wins, and suddenly Seo was no longer the top player on tour, Ryu was.

The two golfers battled for the rest of the season, with Seo eventually getting the best of Ryu.  But Ryu still achieved four wins and nearly 600 million won in earnings, a fantastic feat for the now 19 year old.  To close the year, she played in the first event of the 2010 season in China, the Orient China Ladies Open, and won there as well, beating Seo in a playoff.  With five total wins in 2009, Ryu had a season that was just a smidge less impressive than that of Jennifer Song while playing against superior competition.

So Yeon Ryu with one of her five trophies in 2009

Michelle Wie

The Hawaiian star didn’t have her first LPGA win until after her 20th birthday, but she still had a very successful year going before that, including several second place finishes.

MJ Hur

Hur had a solid year on the LPGA tour.  The 19 year old rookie scored her first career win at the Safeway Classic and made over $400,000 on tour.

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang

The 17 year old amateur Ha Na Jang had some brilliant results in 2009, both playing as an amateur and against professional competition.  She had her best result in amateur golf in July when she won the Junior World Golf Championship at Torrey Pines golf course by six strokes.  Later in the year, she played two professional events in Korea and made a huge mark there.  They were both Majors, and she was in contention to win both of them.  At the Hite Cup, the year’s third Major, Jang was tied for the lead after one round, and established the clubhouse lead on Sunday at three under, then had to wait to see if it would be enough for her to win.  In the end it was not, as KLPGA superstar Hee Kyung Seo ran away with the title, with LPGA superstar Na Yeon Choi edging Jang for second.  But Hana still came up with a solo third in the Major, a fantastic achievement.

Just a week later, at the year’s fourth Major, Jang surpassed even her previous great finish.  The tournament was the KB Star Tour Grand Finale.  This time, she established the lead in round one, hung on for the next two rounds, and found herself duking it out with Seo on Sunday with the Major on the line.  Seo took the lead on the back nine, but Jang hung in there, and when Seo missed a par save on the 16th hole, they were tied for the lead.  But Seo immediately birdied the 17th hole and would go on to squeak out the one shot win over Jang.  Two Majors, two top threes (and Jang beat So Yeon Ryu, mentioned above, in both of them).  It’s hard to do much better than that as an amateur!

Kim Kim

Kimberly Kim, the Korean American star originally from Hawaii, was still a 17 year old junior this year, and thus played in all three of the Major USGA women’s amateur events.  She did not do that well at the US Women’s Amateur, but she made it all the way to the finals in the other two, the US Girls Junior and the US Women’s Amateur Pub Links.  Unfortunately for Kim Squared, she was trounced in both final matches, losing to Korean Jennifer Song in the Pub Links.  Nonetheless, making the finals of two important events like those in one year is a pretty impressive feat.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Search Engine News, HawaiiWebMan. HawaiiWebMan said: Aloha 2009 Awards (9 of 12): Rookie to Watch in 2010 « SeoulSisters: This in turn has caused several K… Aloha Hawaii […]

  2. I would like to throw Nari Kim in the mix. I personally think this is her time. Nari Kim will win in Asia and America in 2K10. RZ

  3. […] […]

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